Rwandan rebels cut off government from capital

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The Independent Online
NAIROBI - Rwandan rebels have sealed the road from the embattled capital, Kigali, to Gitarama, where the government fled last month as ethnic carnage engulfed the country, a United Nations official said yesterday.

The army denied that their foes had seized control of a stretch of the road, 40km (25 miles) south-west of Kigali. But Abdul Kabia, executive director of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda, said the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) had cut the road as they tightened their grip on the capital, which they have sealed off on three sides. Mr Kabia said government forces now controlled only the western part of Kigali, and the rebels were trying to sever their supply lines.

The RPF, dominated by the minority Tutsi tribe that has borne the brunt of six weeks of bloodletting, in which and estimated 500,000 people have been butchered, claimed responsibility yesterday for shooting at an army-escorted convoy carrying the former French humanitarian minister, Bernard Kouchner, on a mercy mission.

Sporadic firefights broke out in different areas of Kigali yesterday as rain lashed the surrounding hills, once green with banana trees but now barren, stripped by hungry displaced people.

It was a relatively quiet day after 10 days of fierce artillery duels, said a UN spokesman, Moctar Gueye, who was slightly hurt when bullet fragments struck his face during the attack on Mr Kouchner's convoy. 'Everyone's waiting,' he said.

About 320,000 of the 500,000 refugees who have fled Rwanda endure squalor in a sprawling makeshift camp just across the Tanzanian border, where thousands of corpses have washed down the Akagera river. Tanzania has appealed for international help to cope with the influx.

Eleven UN peace-keepers have been killed in the past six weeks in Rwanda, 10 of them Belgian soldiers, allegedly murdered by the presidential guard. The lull in the fighting allowed the first food aid in weeks to reach Gitarama yesterday, where thousands of civilians are trapped. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said a truck carrying 12 tons of porridge reached Gitarama.

Another truck is expected to make the journey today. A surgical team also made it from neighbouring Burundi to Kabgayi, 28 miles south-west of the capital.

In Kabgayi, dead bodies lie unburied at the centre of a camp. Miserable groups huddle around fires, stretching out their hands for a share of maize cooked up in large, rusty vats. Refugees said they were being kept virtual prisoner by government troops and that people were repeatedly pulled out of the compound and butchered by extremist death squads from the majority Hutu tribe.